Breakthrough for clean water in developing countries (Day 283)

It’s all too easy to take clean water for granted; so many of us in the developed world can simply turn on a tap to get drinkable water – even if we just want to wash the car.

But the reality can be much grimmer in some parts of the world, as I discuss in my blog ‘Everyone should have a human right to water‘.

More than 70 per cent of illnesses in developing countries worldwide are related to water contamination, with women and children suffering most of all. In India, for instance, nearly 38 million people suffer from water-borne diseases, and up to 1.5 million children die from diarrhoea.

Facts like these make this award-winning breakthrough by chemical engineers from Nigeria and Germany incredibly important.

papaya seedsThe team from Redeemer’s University, Nigeria and the University of Potsdam and the Max Planck Institute in Germany, won the Dhirubhai Ambani Award for Outstanding Chemical Engineering Innovation for Resource-Poor People (which included US $10,000 cash prize funded by Reliance Industries) at the 2014 IChemE Global Awards.

This particular award recognises the use of chemical engineering technology to support people living on less than $2 a day. And the team did just that by developing a new hybrid clay adsorbent (HYCA), based on kaolinite clay and Carica papaya seeds, which removes heavy metal ion and organic pollutants from water.

Continue reading Breakthrough for clean water in developing countries (Day 283)

The birth of a chemical bond (Day 282)

I am regularly fascinated by the work of colleagues who focus on fundamental chemical engineering science.  They deepen the understanding of our discipline and they can often help to explain the world that we live in.

This illustration shows atoms forming a tentative bond, a moment captured for the first time in experiments with an X-ray laser at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The reactants are a carbon monoxide molecule, left, made of a carbon atom (black) and an oxygen atom (red), and a single atom of oxygen, just to the right of it. They are attached to the surface of a ruthenium catalyst, which holds them close to each other so they can react more easily. When hit with an optical laser pulse, the reactants vibrate and bump into each other, and the carbon atom forms a transitional bond with the lone oxygen, center. The resulting carbon dioxide molecule detaches and floats away, upper right. The Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray laser probed the reaction as it proceeded and allowed the movie to be created.
Image Credit | SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
This illustration shows atoms forming a tentative bond, a moment captured for the first time in experiments with an X-ray laser at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

An international group of researchers at the US Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has caught my eye. They’ve used an X-ray laser to capture the first glimpse of two atoms forming a bond, and thus becoming a molecule.

The idea that we can actually observe a chemical bond at the point of formation was long thought to be impossible. So, I can’t stress  enough the profound impact that this work could have on our understanding.

The research will help to clarify how chemical reactions take place, which in turn, can help us design reactions that generate energy, create new products and fertilise crops more efficiently.

Anders Nilsson, a professor at the SLAC/Stanford SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis, US, and at Stockholm University, Sweden,  who led the research said: “This is the very core of all chemistry. It’s what we consider a Holy Grail, because it controls chemical reactivity. But because so few molecules inhabit this transition state at any given moment, no one thought we’d ever be able to see it.”

Continue reading The birth of a chemical bond (Day 282)